Jimi Hendrix and Joni Mitchell are paradoxical icons. The former gave one of the most monumental performances at the original Woodstock; the latter wrote one of the most famous songs about the festival without ever attending it.
Hendrix was deeply entrenched in the counterculture; Mitchell considered herself outside of it despite her ties to it, and in the years since, has been rather critical of it. He dominated rock and roll and played electric guitar like he had a direct line to the Muse, like the guitar was an extension of his being, and wrung the loudest, most provocative sounds from it; she was the mistress of folk and played acoustic guitar in thoughtful open tunings, seemingly offhandedly but in reality inventively melodic and harmonic.
His music was wild, spiritual, psychedelic, carefree, and often loud; hers was subtle and gentle and confessional, unobtrusive and often quiet, but so lovely.
They were peers with overlapping fame, but Hendrix died at age 27, before he presumably achieved his creative peak. Critics argue that Mitchell—alive, age 75, though retired since 2007—seemed to reach her peak in the 1970s, with each album that followed 1976's Hejira a little less great than the last.
Despite their differences, both musicians have inspired artists across genres and decades, and helped shape the musical landscape ever after. And both are getting their due in the coming weeks with single-night film engagements.
Jimi Hendrix: Electric Church chronicles the artist's July 4, 1970, performance at the Atlanta International Pop Festival, one of the last big fests of the era. It drew an estimated 500,000 people to a podunk town called Byron about an hour south of Atlanta. It was one of Hendrix's last great performances; he died a few months later. The 16 mm footage sat virtually untouched for 30 years, until it was recovered, edited, and bookended by interviews that set the context and give background and commentary on the fest. The talking heads range from Paul McCartney to former bandmate Billy Cox to modern guitar phenom Derek Trucks to several Byron townsfolk who experienced the fest firsthand. The doc originally premiered on Showtime in 2015, and had a DVD release, but the current run in select theaters is the first time it's getting the big-screen treatment.
Joni 75: A Birthday Celebration was captured during a two-night run of star-studded, sold-out benefit shows at the Music Center in Los Angeles this past November. It features a handpicked group of Mitchell's peers and protégés performing her music—including Brandi Carlile, Seal, Norah Jones, Los Lobos and La Marisoul, James Taylor, and Rufus Wainwright—interspersed with behind-the-scenes interviews. While a screener of the concert film was unavailable at the time of this writing, all accounts of the event itself describe a loving, reverential, and at times poignant homage to an impressive five-decade career.
One film is tied to the past; the other is rooted in the present. But both are nurtured by nostalgia and shed light on how much influence these two artists wielded—one from well beyond the grave, the other a dozen years deep into her retirement.